The National Anthem

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For patriotic musical compositions, see National anthem.
"The National Anthem"
Song by Radiohead from the album Kid A
Released 2 October 2000
Recorded January 1999 – April 2000
Genre Experimental rock, post-rock, jazz fusion
Length 5:51
Label Parlophone
Producer Nigel Godrich and Radiohead
Kid A track listing
  1. "Everything in Its Right Place"
  2. "Kid A"
  3. "The National Anthem"
  4. "How to Disappear Completely"
  5. "Treefingers"
  6. "Optimistic"
  7. "In Limbo"
  8. "Idioteque"
  9. "Morning Bell"
  10. "Motion Picture Soundtrack"

"The National Anthem" is the third track from the rock band Radiohead's 2000 album Kid A. The song is moored to a repetitive bassline, has a processed electronic production, and develops in a direction influenced by jazz. It has been played frequently at Radiohead concerts since 2000.

Background and recording[edit]

"The National Anthem" is thought to have been previously attempted at recording sessions in 1994 and 1997, but according to Radiohead member Colin Greenwood, the band decided it was "too good to use it as a b-side for OK Computer singles". In the album recording, the bass is played by lead singer Thom Yorke, who wrote the riff at age 16.[1]

In the recording sessions, band members Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood conducted the session musicians, though Yorke lacks formal musical training. Yorke stated in an interview, "The running joke when we were in the studios was, 'Just blow. Just blow, just blow, just blow'",[2] referring to the chaotic brass section sound. Although the recording sounds chaotic, each instrument is playing a solo to the riff.


The free jazz-style brass section featured in the song, influenced by jazz bassist and composer Charles Mingus,[2] creates a soundscape of chaos, and has been described as "a brass band marching into a brick wall" by one reviewer.[2]

The song also features an Ondes Martenot, played by Jonny Greenwood, an early electronic instrument which was picked up by Greenwood for several songs on Kid A and subsequent albums. Greenwood's usage of it was inspired by the music of Olivier Messiaen.

Live performances[edit]

"The National Anthem" was the opening song for most Radiohead concerts in 2000–2001, and is the first track on the band's 2001 album I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings. It has been one of the most played songs from Kid A at concerts since 2000, but has seen a decrease in performances in recent years.[3][4]

The song begins on stage with the band tuning to various radio stations, then mixing the transmissions and static with the bassline. When the song is played live, normal Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood plays the riff, which uses a Lovetone Big Cheese effects pedal[5] to create a more distorted sound.

The Ondes Martenot is also more audible in live versions, thanks to the addition of guitarist Ed O'Brien, who both doubles and expands on Greenwood's parts. Thom Yorke also adds scat singing during some performances. Unlike the studio recorded version on Kid A, the live version of the song is often not performed with a brass section and is replaced with guitar played by Yorke in a stop-start rhythm.

Radiohead has performed with a brass section in their 2000 performances in New York City (one of which was at Radiohead's taping for Saturday Night Live using the house band), a 2001 performance in London for the BBC's Later with Jools Holland, during a 2001 concert in Paris, and on The Colbert Report in 2011.[6]

Cover versions[edit]

"The National Anthem" has been covered by Japanese shamisen duo Yoshida Brothers on their album Prism. Meshell Ndegeocello covered it for the tribute album Exit Music: Songs with Radio Heads. Mr Russia covered it for the tribute album Every Machine Makes A Mistake : A Tribute To Radiohead (FTC Records). Lupe Fiasco has used a sample of the song on the mixtape Enemy Of The State: A Love Story in the song "The National Anthem". Ayurveda has also covered the song on a live performance. Umphrey's McGee covered the song live on New Year's Eve 2010. The Jazz Passengers covered the song on their latest album Reunited.


Additional musicians
  • Henry Binns – rhythm sampling
  • Andy Bush – trumpet
  • Andy Hamilton – tenor saxophone
  • Steve Hamilton – alto saxophone
  • Stan Harrison – baritone saxophone
  • Martin Hathaway – alto saxophone
  • Liam Kerkman – trombone
  • Mike Kersey – bass trombone
  • Mark Lockheart – tenor saxophone